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Cannabis Arrests Are On The Rise -- Again

The places where you can buy marijuana are increasing, but so are the number of arrests on marijuana-related charges.

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While more U.S. states continue to legalize marijuana, more U.S. citizens keep getting arrested for marijuana-related crimes. FBI crime statistics show that, for the third year in a row, the number of marijuana-related arrests increased in 2018.

Milan Markovic | Getty Images

How is that possible? The crime stats from the FBI don’t offer an explanation, only raw data. However, it was clear that arrests have increased in areas where marijuana is not yet legal.

In the West, where many states have legalized cannabis, marijuana possession arrests accounted for only 13.4 percent of all such arrests nationwide. It’s a different story in other parts of the country, however, with the most arrests happening in the Northeast (48.9 percent), with the Midwest (45.8 percent) and the South (44.8 percent) not far behind.

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Cannabis Advocates See It As A Waste Of Taxpayers’ Money

Condemnation of the new numbers was swift. For example, NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri issued a statement pointing out that the numbers indicate a marijuana-related arrest happens about every 48 seconds in the United States.

“At a time when the overwhelming majority of Americans want cannabis to be legal and regulated, it is an outrage that many police departments across the country continue to waste tax dollars and limited law enforcement resources on arresting otherwise law-abiding citizens for simple marijuana possession," Altieri said.

Altieri's right about the “majority of Americans,” if the polls are to be believed. For example, Gallup found in 2018 that two out of every three Americans supports legalization of marijuana. That is a new high for Gallup, which has asked this same question about the issue for a half century.

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The FBI Numbers Showed About 4,000 More Arrests Overall

The FBI data showed that an estimated 663,367 cannabis-related arrests happened in 2018. In 2017, that number was 659,700. About 90 percent of the arrests were for possession, according to NORML.

Sheila Vakharia, deputy director for academic engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance, told Leafly that the numbers are “incredibly disheartening.” She said that the numbers show that marijuana continues to be “the lowest-hanging fruit for drug policing in the United States.”

The organization Cage-Free Cannabis, which attempts to repair some of the damage of the War on Drugs by working to expunge the arrest records of those convicted on marijuana charges, went even further. The group emailed a statement to Leafly saying the numbers showed that “The War on Drugs isn’t over. The war on cannabis consumers and patients isn’t even over: it’s escalating, and we know from past experience that it’s disproportionately affecting communities of color.”

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